We all know the feeling. You're sleepless in the sad hours of the night or stumbling around early on a hazy weekend morning in need of something to read, and that pile of unread books just isn't cutting it. Why not take a break from the fire hose of Twitter and RSS and check out our weekly roundup of essential writing from around the web about technology, culture, media, and the future? Sure, it's one more thing you can feel guilty about sitting in your Instapaper queue, but it's better than pulling in vain on your Twitter list again.
John Seabrook digs into the world of K-pop, which is oddly reminiscent of classic American hit-making factories like Berry Gordy's Motown.
The New Yorker: John Seabrook - Factory Girls
In addition to singing and dancing, the idols study acting and foreign languages—Japanese, Chinese, and English. They also receive media coaching and are readied for the intense scrutiny they will receive on the Internet from the "netizens" of Korea, the most wired country on earth. ("Netizens Love Seohyun’s Aegyo Mark" declared a recent headline from the K-pop Web site Soompi, regarding the small beauty dot to the left of the singer’s eye.) Unless you’re the Jonas Brothers or Taylor Swift, public drunkenness, brawling, and serial misbehavior can often enhance an artist’s reputation in the American pop scene; in Korea, a rumored sex tape or a positive test for marijuana can derail a career.
Brittany Julious writes about Tumblr's mix of production, consumption, and how it often serves to define the user.
This Recording: Brittany Julious - The Play of Selves
For myself, the consumer and blogger and Tumblr user, the art became less the art and more the sort of tangible object I use to define who I am on a daily basis. The photographs by Ekberg were as much me as my collection of rings, my beaded blouses, or my heels. The truth is ugly and self-centered, but true. The more I see, the more I take on and consume as me and only me.
Ethan Kaplan writes an affecting piece on the inescapable merging of the virtual and the real.
Inside the Moral Kiosk: Ethan Kaplan - A Brief Pause
Last Thursday I was in a meeting and opened Facebook on my phone and saw that this little boy had passed away two days prior. My heart stopped and for a second I couldn’t breathe. I tapped through to the profile that posted it, and was confronted by the fissure between two posts prior and this one. A smile and a tragedy.
Alec Liu tells the history around "Facebook killer" Diaspora.
Motherboard: Alec Liu - What Happened to the Facebook Killer? It's Complicated
"For some strange reason, everyone just agreed with this whole privacy thing," Dan said at the time. "Facebook Killer!" was the battle cry heard around the ‘net, a real-life story of David versus Goliath. Powerful technology investors like Fred Wilson contributed to the cause. Al Gore phoned in to let the boys know that they were fighting the good fight."
Brad Plumer talks to the economist Eyjólfur Guðmundsson, who oversees the economy in the massively multiplayer online games Eve Online.
Wonkblog: Brad Plumer - The economics of video games
Nowadays, many massively multiplayer online video games have become so complex that game companies are turning to economists for help. Without oversight, the games’ economies can go badly awry — as when a gambling ban triggered a virtual bank run in the online world of Second Life in 2007, with one bank alone costing players $750,000 in real-life money.
On the baggage tag
Mark Vanhoenacker looks at the birth and history behind the lowly baggage tag.
Slate: Mark Vanhoenacker - The Beauty of the Airline Baggage Tag
The modern tag is known as an automated baggage tag, and was first tried by many airlines in the early 1990s. Perhaps the earliest airline to implement ABTs system-wide was United, in 1992, according to Jon Barrere, a spokesperson for Print-O-Tape, a tag manufacturer and United’s partner on the project. Let’s examine in detail the myriad improvements offered by the ABT, which symbolize as perfectly as anything air travel’s transition from a rare luxury for the ultra-rich to safe, effective transport for a shrinking planet.
Have any favorites that you'd like to see included in next week's edition? Send them along to @thomashouston or share in the comments below.